Trousers, jeans, slacks, chinos, khakis, britches, corduroys, bloomers, overalls, pantaloons, pantalones and just plain old pants — Joe Fisher wants none of it. Not only are pants protested at Man Skirt Brewing in Hackettstown, the battle against bad corporate beer is fought everyday in kilts.
It’s easy to spot Fisher in the brewery, he’s the man wearing a utility kilt scrubbing the tanks, stirring the wort and hauling bags of grain around. As the founder, owner, operator and lone full-time employee, he calls the shots, which means he can wear whatever he wants.
No Pants? No Problem
“Hey man, I’m just trying to fight the tyranny of trousers,” he said with a big laugh. “It’s my thing. I like to do things different. People always ask if I’m wearing underwear. Of course, I am. I’m working with hot liquids!”
Since opening in 2015, Man Skirt Brewing has steadily grown from three base beers (including its best seller, The Great Porter) to more than 85 titles of beers rotating in the tap room. On top of that, the tap room is one of the most impressive in the state; it’s housed in a 1940s bank that has historical significance in Hackettstown.
Like the majority of craft breweries, Fisher began his journey with homebrewing. The Staten Island native took up the hobby when he moved to New Jersey for work in computer programming.
Starting with a base kit he bought from Corrado’s Market, he steadily bought bigger equipment to expand on his hobby.
“I discovered Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Stone IPA and I wanted to make it myself,” he explained. “I’m a bit of a science and engineer nerd and I like to draw, so homebrewing is a good way to blend arts and science. The reward for drinking your own beer after weeks of work is an amazing feeling.”
Fisher would give out bottles of his homebrew to friends, who would then serve to other friends. Eventually, he was receiving unbiased praise from strangers. That gave him the confidence to go all out to start his own brewery.
With perfected recipes for his porter, blonde and British bitter, he set out to find a town waiting to take a chance on a brewery. He had his eye on the bank building across from a favorite hangout of his, Bea McNally’s Irish Pub in Hackettstown.
When the building went into foreclosure, he won it at an auction. Previously, it was the People’s Bank and then a Wachovia branch, but it’s real historical significance is the bank vault. Back in the 1940s, a fire destroyed most of downtown Hackettstown, but the town’s money in the vault survived. Today, the vault now holds something that is also valuable, cans of The Great Porter.
It Was Either Here or Under the Mattress
Taking a bank and turning it into a production brew house was a massive undertaking which included upgrading the electricity, installing a water system and building a bar from scratch.
Fisher made sure to keep the vault, restore the original flooring and clean the thick windows. Unfortunately, the drive-thru windows will not be used as a drive-thru beer pickup. One bank manager’s office is used as Fisher’s office, while another was turned into a makeshift snug with tables, chairs, board games, a vintage jukebox and an antique safe.
While the year-long process of building Man Skirt was underway, Fisher had to figure out what beer to make and how to sell it.
“I definitely wanted to focus on beer I like to drink,” he said. “I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I like beer to be simple and not get too out there with experimenting or trends.”
His best selling beer is The Great Porter, a dark, roasty, chocolatey rich beer that’s crave-worthy even on humid summer days.
“We can’t keep it on the shelf, it sells so fast,” said Fisher of his top-selling six-pack.
In keeping with the British pub style beers, his other year-round is his Better Than Pants English Bitter, a mildly bitter, bread-like low alcohol ale. Rounding out his year-rounds is the Gold Bar Blonde Blonde Ale that uses Centennial and Cascade hops for it’s light, fruity taste.
Doesn’t Matter Where You’re From
Even though Fisher favors kilts and British style beers, he is actually of German and Italian heritage. If anything, his outgoing personality and gregarious sense of humor finds its way into his seasonal and rotating beers (nicknamed “Under the Kilt”) that riff on banks and kilts and British culture.
There’s a creamy and smooth Safe Deposit Stout, and a burley Jack Daniels barrel-aged Scotch ale called the Wee Bastard; as well as a clean-drinking Common Denominator California Common. With Oktoberfest coming next month, expect more German-style beers like the Lederskirten and BeDunkenDonk; in fact, both will be available during Hackettstown’s Oktoberfest celebration on September 29.
Like with all New Jersey breweries, opening day on October 3, 2015 was a madhouse with lines stretching around the block.
“It’s a humbling experience to see hundreds of people who I’ve never met waiting for hours to drink my beer,” he recalled. “Then they would get back in line to do it over again.”
Now, with Czig Meister Brewing a block away, he’ll get customers coming from or on their way to visit; making Hackettstown a must visit for NJ craft beer fans.
With so many beer geeks coming in to drink all of Fisher’s wares, he recently quit his day job; after two decades of working in computer programming, he’s working her full time.
“That was a major leap of faith. I was down to 30 hours of working the day job and 60 hours a week building this; so the human body can only stand so much,” he said with a big smile.
One of the aspects of being a craft brewer that Fisher enjoys the most is customer feedback; which leads to requests to bring back out of production beers. Even though he has an unlimited supply of beer at his fingertips, it’s the interaction with customers in the tap room or on social media that gives him more of a reason to don a kilt everyday.
“We get the greatest, coolest crowds in here,” he said. “I just want to talk with them all and find out their stories.”
Name: Man Skirt Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, Warren County
Standout Beer: The Great Porter
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, bottles and cans to-go and merchandise. Check Facebook for tap lists, updated hours, bottle and can releases and upcoming events. Parking available in municipal lots across the street and metered parking on street. Food and pets are welcomed.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ